Pitt | Swanson Engineering

Welcome from the Associate Dean of Diversity

Sylvanus WosuIt is my pleasure to welcome you to the Swanson School of Engineering (SSOE) Office of Diversity. SSOE diversity refers to the integrated differences and similarities that all individuals and programs contribute in the academic mission of the school. The mission of the Engineering Office of Diversity (EOD) is to create and sustain learning and working environments where those differences and similarities are valued and respected, and all students, especially women and underrepresented students are included and empowered to excel in engineering education. EOD provides continuous academic and community support services through four program areas: the Pitt Engineering Career Access Program (PECAP) pre-college INVESTING NOW and college Pitt EXCEL Programs, Diversity Graduate Engineering Program (DGEP), and Diversity Education Program (DEP).

Sylvanus N. Wosu, PhD

Associate Dean for Diversity Affairs


A Message from U.S. Steel Dean James Martin II on the 155th Celebration of Juneteenth

All SSoE News, Diversity, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs, Investing Now


Pitt alumna and Alabama engineer Renee Corbett '16 helping NYC homeless fight COVID-19

Covid-19, Civil & Environmental, Diversity, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

This story was originally published by AL.com. In New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, the virus that’s forced most people indoors is forcing the homeless outdoors. Renee Corbett, a native of Huntsville who works with the international aid group, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF, has seen it first-hand. Corbett, a civil and environmental engineer by training, is in New York working with an MSF team providing hygiene service and infection control to New York’s homeless population. With public bathrooms and recreation centers closed, the places where homeless people could bathe are gone. So Corbett’s team operates two mobile shower facilities for people that need it. “At our showers we are meeting many people who say that they are choosing to live on the streets instead of in shelters because they feel that they are safer from COVID-19 on the streets,” she said. Before the global pandemic, Corbett had worked primarily in Africa, providing water and hygiene to people in Ethiopia and Sudan. It seems odd that providing a simple need: clean water and a place to bathe, would be just as necessary in America’s largest city as it is in wilds of Africa. ... Read the full article here.
Author: Shelly Haskins, AL.com

Swanson School of Engineering Names Natasa Vidic as 2020 Outstanding Educator

Industrial, Diversity, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

PITTSBURGH (May 5, 2020) — The University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering recognized Natasa Vidic, PhD, assistant professor of industrial engineering, with the 2020 Outstanding Educator Award. This competitive award recognizes her excellence in teaching and innovative work in improving learning methodologies for undergraduate students. The award includes a $2,000 grant to further enhance the recipient’s teaching. Vidic received her PhD from the University of Pittsburgh in 2008 and hired as a Visiting Professor immediately after. She joined the Department of Industrial Engineering as an assistant professor in 2010. Since then, she has taught over 3,500 engineering students and frequently has more than 200 students per semester. “Natasa has worked tirelessly as a valued member of the Undergraduate Committee to make sure our students receive the best possible learning experience,” said Bopaya Bidanda, PhD, Ernest E. Roth Professor and chair of the Department of Industrial Engineering. “She is always working towards improve her courses each year both in content and technique, and has led the effort to review core course content in the entire curriculum to ensure that there is no duplication, and that technical material is integrated in a logical progression.” In addition to her course load and committee work, Vidic has spent the past decade researching engineering education, where she focuses on improving engineering students’ learning strategies through models and modeling. “This award reaffirms my past efforts to improve student learning outcomes,” said Vidic. “It inspires me to work even harder to make sure that we continue to offer outstanding education to our students and help them reach their potential.” Vidic was one of the first faculty members in the Swanson School to “flip” her class, a teaching method that presents the lecture content online for students to watch before class, leaving class time for discussing and applying the material. “Since the very first course I took from Dr. Vidic, I admired her ability to engage a classroom.  Even in a setting of over eighty students, you never felt as though you were just sitting through another hour and a half lecture,” said Sean Callaghan, who graduated with his BS in industrial engineering in 2019. “Most of the time, you were having a conversation with either a small group or the entire room and talking through the complex theories and problems that Dr. Vidic had just presented that day.” Vidic’s open-door policy has solidified her role as a mentor and advisor to a growing number of undergraduates. Among them is senior industrial engineering student Jacob Richards, who said, “I fervently believe that there is no faculty member like her, that she is one of those special cases that mean so much to people like me and that without her, I would not be where I am today.” The Outstanding Educator Award is usually presented in person at a meeting for faculty; however, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the award was announced by U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering James R. Martin II in his address to the graduating industrial engineering class. “Improving the way we teach and serve students is a goal toward which we strive, and Natasa has been a tremendous role model in that respect,” said Martin. “The Swanson School is proud to have her among our faculty as she emboldens the next generation of the engineers to solve the toughest problems and advance the human condition.”
Maggie Pavlick

Shaniel Bowen Receives Ford Foundation Fellowship for Women’s Health Research

Bioengineering, Diversity, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 24, 2020) … Despite the fact that women make up more than half of the U.S. population, women’s health continues to be an underserved area of research in science and medicine. Shaniel Bowen, a bioengineering graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, is doing her part to narrow that gap by studying the biomechanical roots of a common pelvic floor disorder, and she has received a Ford Foundation Fellowship to support these efforts. Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) occurs when the muscles and tissues that support the pelvic organs weaken and allow the organs to push against the vagina. This common condition adversely affects women’s quality of life, including their body image, sexual function and personal relationships. Surgical repair for POP often fails within five years and requires reoperation, but the exact causes of this failure are unknown. The goal of Bowen’s research is to create a tool to better assess POP repairs. “The standard tool used to evaluate POP repairs is limited to external vaginal examination,” explained Bowen. “As a result, it cannot detect the internal changes and interactions of pelvic structures involved in POP recurrence.” This work is led by her advisor, Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, and Pamela Moalli, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Pitt and pelvic reconstructive surgeon at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. Abramowitch’s research uses experimental and computational methods to develop preventative treatment options for POP and more effective patient-specific treatments. He has a background in biomechanics, which he and the lab believes will play an important role in better understanding the causes of failed surgery. “Nearly one-third of POP repairs fail due to abnormal mechanical behavior of the muscles, connective tissues, and nerves that help provide pelvic floor support following surgery,” said Bowen. “Failure of POP repair is fundamentally a biomechanical process; therefore, a biomechanical understanding of how and why repairs fail is needed to better treat POP and prevent its recurrence after surgery.” Bowen’s goal is to create a novel assessment tool to evaluate and predict surgical outcomes of POP repairs based on patient anatomy. The project uses magnetic resonance images (MRIs) to get a better idea of the internal changes after POP surgery. She will apply statistical shape analysis and finite element modeling to the MRIs of 89 women with POP that underwent native tissue repair or mesh repair 30-42 months post-surgery. She will then use these data to identify anatomic descriptors and predictors of surgical outcomes and quantify the relationship between the mechanical demand required for POP repair to successfully correct prolapse. “We need to address the gaps in scientific knowledge about women’s health,” said Bowen. “If this research is successful, it will advance our biomechanical knowledge of how and why failures occur after POP surgery. We hope that this tool will provide useful data to clinicians and help guide and optimize surgical decision-making to improve POP repair.” # # # About the Ford Foundation Fellowship Through its Fellowship Programs, the Ford Foundation seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, maximize the educational benefits of diversity, and increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students. Predoctoral, Dissertation, and Postdoctoral fellowships will be awarded in a national competition administered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on behalf of the Ford Foundation.


Giving Virtual Recruitment the Personal Touch

Covid-19, Diversity, Student Profiles, Investing Now

PITTSBURGH (April 22, 2020) -- During this time of year, the staff at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering would be busy welcoming prospective and admitted students and their families to campus. Calendars would be filled with tutoring and mentoring sessions, events like Admitted Student Day, tours of Benedum Hall and Q&A sessions about life as an engineering student. Except this year, since the coronavirus pandemic has prevented those in-person events from taking place, the staff has shifted to using the technology at hand to welcome students virtually. While there has been an adjustment period, student support services are reporting positive results, and some are even considering keeping remote activities as an option for families and students who aren’t able to attend the in-person events. From In-Person to Virtual-Person Lauren Byland, associate director for the First-Year Engineering Program Office, has been organizing virtual information sessions for admitted students for about a month now, with between 40 and 80 students and their families joining each one. Despite the pandemic, recruitment numbers are approximately 50 percent ahead of where they were at this time last year. “The virtual sessions have been going very well. They feature a professional recruitment team staff member such as myself or Beth Scott, the campus visit and recruitment coordinator for the Swanson School,” says Byland. “One of our senior-level Engineering Ambassadors presents, too, so they can get a student perspective.” The team hosted its first virtual Admitted Student Day on April 13 on YouTube Live, and they’ve ramped up social media efforts to connect with students. The Pink Panthers Mentorship program, which started last year, is continuing to pair admitted female students with a mentor at the Swanson School. The group had conducted eight of the 12 scheduled events, and when asked if the admitted students would be interested in virtual events, 25 of 37 signed up. “These events will be smaller and more personalized, and we are happy that technology allows us to make these connections. Nothing can replace a personalized on-campus visit, but these programs certainly help them see themselves as Pitt Panthers and feel connected to our School,” says Byland. “We were forced into this virtual recruitment world, but now that we are doing it, we plan to still do virtual sessions or meetings after we come back to campus for families that may not be able to visit us in person.“ Christopher Kirchhof, coordinator of transfer student services at the Swanson School, has also begun using virtual alternatives to the small, in-person meetings usually held at this time of year. A majority of transfer students come from within the University of Pittsburgh’s Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, but Kirchhof also spends time visiting other schools to meet with transfer students there in groups. Those group meetings have become one-on-one Skype calls. “To me, I think students and families have been understanding that this is a pivot from the norm and have been appreciative of the one-on-one outreach. I keep going back to the quote, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention;’ we have had the technological capabilities to do virtual outreach, but this situation has forced us to rethink our practices,” says Kirchhof. “While nothing can replicate an on-campus or in-person meeting, I’m thinking that once we are back on campus, virtual advising for students at other campuses may become the norm, at least for the first interaction.” Excelling in the Digital Space Serving more than 250 undergraduate students, Pitt EXCEL is a diversity program that provides academic support, mentoring and career development for underrepresented minorities. More than that, they help students develop a community and professionally grow together. As campus closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, program staff had to quickly adapt these services to remote learning. “The transition to remote learning has been quite difficult academically,” said Halima Morafa, a sophomore mechanical engineering student. “Many of my teachers have been quite accommodating; however, it is still a big change now that I’m back at home, and a lot of the resources that I would utilize at Pitt are not available.” Yvette Moore, director of Pitt EXCEL, and the engineering student support staff have been developing new ways to implement their programs and services. “I think the students realize what they had on campus was something special, and we’re collectively doing everything we can to recreate it,” said Moore. “Pitt EXCEL is having virtual one-on-one meetings, and the student organizations have jumped right in with tutoring and ‘lounges’ where they can meet as a group and discuss tips for working from home.” Student groups like the National Society for Black Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers have held virtual elections, while DIVA and Brotherhood have continued to provide virtual workshops. “It has been business not-as-usual, but it has been great,” said Moore. “At first I thought it was going to be hard for us to change everything to virtual so quickly, but it wasn’t. The students, to their credit, are resilient.” The program has bolstered its presence on social media, where Moore holds weekly Instagram Live (@PittEXCEL) events called, “Fabulous Friday.” The virtual gatherings are a widely attended 15-minutes of motivation on subjects varying from “The What-ifs of Life” to “Flying Without Wings.” They have also planned an Instagram Live cooking show with alumni so that they can discuss healthy eating habits during the quarantine. “One thing that has remained consistent is our alumni engagement,” said Moore. “They have great wisdom and advice to give our students about how they can navigate these uncertain times.” Another recent development established by the undergraduate coordinators is an engineering hotline. Students can fill out an online form to discuss any topic, such as co-op, tutoring, or professional development, and they are paired up with someone who can help. Alumni are available to give advice and prepare students to enter the workforce, and upperclassmen are available to assist them with challenging coursework or discuss their personal experiences as an engineering student. The hotline is available from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. on weekends. “The Instagram Lives, the hotline, and Ms. Moore’s online advising sessions have been so helpful because it gives this scary time a nice sense of normality and stability,” said Anaya Joynes, a sophomore industrial engineering student. “She reminds me that I will still reach my goals and we are still a family, though we are far away.” Moore said, “For some students, life looks different when they go home, but they know that they also have a home at Pitt, and we can provide that extra support and help them process all of this.” Investing in Future Students INVESTING NOW, a college preparatory program that welcomes and supports high school students from groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields, has shifted their operations online, as well. They have continued to offer advising, tutoring and workshops but have also added virtual meet-up groups with Pitt undergraduates who are also INVESTING NOW alumni. When it was clear the University would be moving to online interactions, INVESTING NOW sent instructions for families on how to use Zoom, and advisors and students reached out to contact students individually to schedule sessions. “Smaller group interactions are best, and relationships matter. Because our college student employees (both student coordinators and tutors) already had relationships with our pre-college students, it was easier to make the connection,” says Alaine Allen, PhD, director of Educational Outreach and Community Engagement at the Swanson School and a co-director of the Broadening Equity in STEM Center at Pitt. “These relationships that were built on trust make the connections stronger and allow our pre-college students to see interacting with the college students as a treat.” In addition to the usual tutoring and mentoring activities, INVESTING NOW has also begun holding regular meet-up groups with Pitt students where they discuss topics like “quaren-things to do,” college planning, games, time management and more. Yet, Allen has noticed a disparity in the students’ technological skills and preparation, which has presented additional challenges. “We have been pleasantly surprised by how quickly our high school students and our undergraduate tutors and mentors adjusted to the virtual space,” says Allen. “However, we have been alarmed by the difference of experience our students are having based on the school they attend. Our biggest challenge has been the academic expectations of students, depending on their school and/or district.” Luckily, Allen says most students have access to a computer or smartphone, and they’re in touch with community organizations who can support student technology needs if necessary. However, while some districts were prepared with online curricula, not all of them were able to immediately make a smooth transition. “Because of the difference, not all of our students are as engaged as possible,” says Allen. “This experience has made us realize the importance of assessing students access to technology in advance. We are very concerned that various levels of access have only increased the educational inequity and challenges present.” # # #
Maggie Pavlick and Leah Russell

128B Benedum Hall
3700 O'Hara Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Tel: 412-624-9842
Email: eodadmin@pitt.edu

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